In all the years since Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon has been out there in the world, I’ve imagined what the film is about.
Okay, so it’s not taken too much time out of the last 17 years. Just a few minutes here and there.
I definitely imagined it to be at least three hours long. Obvs. And a huge, big budget, sweeping epic. Because all three hour long films have got to be huge, big budget, sweeping epics.
And it won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film, so it was going to be at least an ‘okay’ film. But it was a much more complex, quieter film than I imagined. Not that there weren’t some badass martial arts, just that I thought the film would be all badass martial arts.
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon takes place in the 1700s, the Qing Dynasty in China. As I try to write it, I realise the plot can’t be summarised in a couple of sentences. Our main man Li Mu Bai is a Wudang swordfighter and wants to give up his sword, ‘Green Destiny’ and give up his warrior life to retire. He asks his friend, female warrior Yu Shu Lien, to give his sword to a friend of his who lives on Governor Yu’s compound.
While at the complex, the sword is stolen and Yu Shu Lien seeks to find out who the thief is. Turns out, it’s a rather accomplished young female, Jen, who stumbled across the Wudang manual and is a self-taught martial artist (is that the right phrasing?). There’s so much more to it than that, but let’s just say this young woman is troubled and there are a few other layers to the narrative.
The style & themes
Like I’ve already stated, I was struck by the film’s complex themes. It’s one of the most popular foreign language films in the USA and for that reason, I thought it would be more action and less emotion. Most of the characters we are dealing with have led challenging, often troubled lives. I guess what do you expect when you’re a warrior in 1700s China?!
The film makes use of legends surrounding Wudang warriors at that time. If you have seen the film, I am, of course, referring to the fact that the trained warriors can jump exceedingly far and high, unlike us mere mortals. They are also incredibly strong, quick and agile. So the Wudang warriors are essentially Spiderman without the webs. It’s a little offputting at first but by the end of the film, I think it gives more credibility to just how strenuous and unrelenting their training and focus must be in order to achieve such skills.
Not to mention that the martial arts fighting between the warriors is just beautiful. It sometimes looks like a dance the way the movements are so choreographed. And often the fighting is accompanied by simple acoustic drums. In one scene, it sounds like there’s a small band quietly set up in a dark corner of the courtyard, instrumentally narrating the scenes in front of them.
Though Li Mu Bai and Yu Shu Lien were fantastic characters, Jen was the most interesting and complex. By the end of the film, I still didn’t understand what had gone wrong. She seemed callous and jaded and I didn’t understand how she became to be like that. Maybe it’s the plight of rich girls at that time where they just have to sit and look pretty until they get married where their only job is to raise babies. I know I’d hate that, but it seems to be a disturbing kind of distrust of people.
There was a prolonged flashback sequence where Jen is kidnapped and stolen from (which, I think, takes up too much time) but I guess it gives her some kind of backstory and more depth. But can she simply not want to get married because she just doesn’t want to get married? Does she have to be secretly in love with someone else?
Also, did it have to be some kind of Stockholm Syndrome kind of love? I get that this thief might represent the kind of life she wants to live, away from her Governor father… but, really. She just comes across as highly troubled, no matter which way she turns.
Oh, I get it now. That makes sense in terms of her intended fate… Haha. Oops, my bad.
Have you ever seen Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments below!